Scary stories from a lovely place
On an early morning work commute last weekend my husband was listening to the radio when one of the presenter’s made unsavoury reference to woman’s virginity. Excited about starting a new show, and carried away by the moment, he described it in unrepeatable terms, which included a reference to blood. (And this was no radio station who employs the likes of notorious male Australian DJ’s. It was Triple J.)
Stephen promptly pulled over the car and wrote an SMS expressing his offence, which included a threat to report them to the appropriate Standards Board. Soon after his initial comment, the DJ apologised as response to what must have been a flood of complaints, and also said “we might not be on this shift for much longer if Stephen in Wollongong has anything to do about it.”
Oh man. I wish I had heard it. When Stephen told me this story I was so so proud of my husband’s response. Not only that he realised that what was said was problematic, but that it deeply concerned him, which roused him to action. I have not thought of Stephen as a feminist before, but I described him as such after he told me this cool story.
But I’m not actually sure this does make Stephen a feminist. Really, he is just defending the honour of women, seeking to protect us and reacting against our physical bodies being used as material for humour. Unfortunately there has been a lot of that sort of thing lately in the public eye – cast your minds back to the ‘Menugate’ incident with Julia Gillard (where her body was derided in a sexual way on the menu at a Liberal Party event. They’re a respectable bunch of gents our new Government, that’s for sure). But maybe that’s all it takes for someone to be a feminist these days.
As women, it is our bodies that is our weakness. I wrote earlier this week that women have as much potential as men to lead, govern, make policy, speak clearly, enact change and do good as men. But, damn it, we are always stopped by our bodies. At the gentle end it’s a Liberal candidate being described as having ‘sex appeal’ during an election and at the extreme end it’s the use of sexual violence as a weapon in sectarian clashes and war.
Just today I read an article about the increase in acts of sexual violence against women by taxi drivers in Victoria. Even in a commercial transaction, in an environment that should be secure for women when they are at risk or intoxicated, we may not be safe, because of our physiology. This is what I hate about power, that in the realm of sex it can be used to deeply damage, when it should be used to care.
But it’s not just the offenders of sexual crimes who are to blame. Words do damage too, even if they are intended in jest. But words can repair too, and fight back. Good words, words of defence, like Stephen’s did on Saturday morning. I hope we are continually troubled by demeaning and sexist speak, rather than desensitised to it.
(There have been numerous ‘This is what a feminist looks like’ campaigns. I’ve struggled to find the origin of this phrase, but this blog might be it.)